October 16, 2019

Poison Pills: A Career Limiting Move for Directors?

If you’re a public company director looking to put a real crimp in your future career prospects, it looks like adopting a poison pill is a pretty good way to do it. In a recent Business Law Prof blog, Akron U’s Stefan Padfield flagged a new study that says directors who vote to adopt a poison pill pay a significant price. Here’s the abstract:

We examine the labor market consequences for directors who adopt poison pills. Directors who become associated with pill adoption experience significant decreases in vote margins and increases in termination rates across all their directorships. They also experience a decrease in the likelihood of new board appointments. Firms have positive abnormal stock price reactions when pill-associated directors die or depart their boards, compared to zero abnormal returns for other directors.

Further tests indicate that these adverse consequences accrue primarily to directors involved in the adoption of pills at seasoned firms and not at young firms. We conclude that directors who become associated with poison pill adoption suffer a decrease in the value of their services, and that the director labor market thus plays an important role in firms’ governance.

The study suggests that the absence of any adverse effect on directors who put pills in place at emerging companies may reflect the market’s perception that takeover defenses are positive for young firms and negative for more seasoned ones.

PCAOB: Board Seat Drama Culminates in SEC Shake-Up

Last month, Broc blogged about the controversy over Kathleen Hamm’s seat on the board of the PCAOB. To make a long story short, Hamm wanted to be reappointed to the Board, but according to this article by’s Francine McKenna, the SEC seemed to have other ideas. Last week, the CII sent a letter to the SEC citing Francine’s article & endorsing Hamm’s reappointment.

The plot thickened late Friday afternoon when the SEC issued a press release announcing that Hamm would leave the PCAOB board when her current term expires. That was followed by another release announcing that White House staffer Rebekah Goshorn Jurata would take Hamm’s place on the board.

If the replacement of the reportedly “Democrat-aligned” Hamm with a Trump Administration insider wasn’t enough to raise eyebrows, the SEC’s second press release went on to announce that Commissioner Hester Peirce – who is, to say the least, not a fan of Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act – would “lead the Commission’s coordination efforts with the Board of the PCAOB.”

Any hopes that releasing the news about the shake-up late on the Friday before a holiday weekend would limit media attention on the PCAOB were likely dashed yesterday when the WSJ published an article detailing a whistleblower’s allegations that the PCAOB’s work has been slowed by “board infighting, multiple senior staff departures, and allegations that the chairman has created a “’sense of fear.'”

Whistleblowers: Big Changes in SEC’s Program On the Way?

According to this recent AP report, the SEC is quietly moving toward adopting some potentially significant changes in its whistleblower program. Here’s an excerpt:

The proposal would give the SEC discretion to set the smallest and largest cash awards to whistleblowers, among other changes. Critics say that change would likely discourage employees from reporting major frauds by lowering the chances of a huge payout. The payment for successful cases is now 10% to 30% of fines or restitution collected by the agency — which means the bigger the fraud, the larger the bounty.

The SEC also wants to impose new requirements for filing a whistleblower complaint. To receive legal protection from the SEC against retaliation — a core concern for people risking their careers and livelihoods — a whistleblower would have to report violations in writing, rather than the oral disclosures now permitted at the SEC and other federal agencies.

Liz blogged about the proposal to amend the whistleblower rules when the SEC initially made it in June 2018, but now that it appears to be close to adoption, it has prompted the usual reaction from the usual suspects. Whistleblower advocates contend the changes would have calamitous results, while the AP story quotes the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as saying that the proposal is a “small but nonetheless important step” toward improvement.

John Jenkins